The Agony in the Garden1558 - 1562. Oil on canvas, 176 x 136 cm.
On 13 July 1558, Philip II asked Titian to make haste with the completion of an Agony in the Garden which the artist had agreed to finish one year earlier, but which was only sent to the monarch in 1562 along with The Rape of Europa. Titian sent the king another painting of the same subject, probably in 1563, and Philip sent both to the Escorial where the second is still to be found. While the two works have obvious similarities, they illustrate different passages from the Gospel accounts. The Escorial painting focuses on Christ´s prayer, while the Museo del Prado painting depicts the imminent capture of Christ. This would explain the shift of the Apostles in the latter painting to the middle-ground so that they becomes less important than the grotesque-looking soldiers in contemporary dress (one with a striking scorpion on his shield), accompanied by a dog and justifying Palomino´s characterisation of the work as capricious in the early eighteenth century. For Jaffe, this shifting of the main action to the background indicates Titian´s openness to the telescopic type of compositions in fashion in Rome in 1545-46.
In the Escorial version, an angel comforts Christ, an element in the story only recounted in Luke 22: 43, while in the Prado painting the divine presence is suggested by a glow of light. The lantern held by a soldier, which Rearick considered a genre element borrowed by Jacopo Bassano and other authors associated with the Easter Thursday processions (Wethey), is clearly referred to in John 18: 3, the only one of the Gospel writers to dwell on the episode´s night-time setting.
Valcanover and Pallucchini defended Titian´s authorship and related it to works such as The Martyrdoms of Saint Lawrence, which reveal Titian´s growing interest in effects of light at the end of the 1550s. Although the artist had employed night-time settings for earlier paintings, such as the 1531 Penitent Saint Jerome (Paris, Louvre), this could not be considered nocturnal in the sense of that term as used by sixteenth-century Italian art theoreticians. For Armenini (1586), nocturnes included independent sources of light, usually torches and lamps, to reveal the admirable effects of those lights, and to make generally known the excellent devices of the painter´s skill. Lomazzo had expressed himself in similar terms in 1584 in his Tratatto dell´arte della pittura, scultura et archittetura, considering that nocturnal scenes were above all virtuoso exercises on the part of the artist. Both theoreticians placed Titian in a pre-eminent position among the practitioners of this genre, along with Correggio, whose nocturnal Agony in the Garden (London, The Wellington Museum) was mentioned by Crowe and Cavalcaselle in relation to the Escorial painting.
The X-radiograph of the present work reveals changes in the position of Christ, who was initially more inclined, and in the dog´s head which was slightly lower. A drawing of a Kneeling Christ (Florence, Uffizi, inv. no. 12,911F recto) has been associated with both the Prado painting and the Escorial paintings, although Wethey rejected the connection because he did not consider the drawing to be by Titian. Despite certain differences between the drawing and these paintings (the drapery of the tunic is less elaborate in the paintings), Christ´s pose in the drawing, which is more inclined, is strikingly close to that shown in the X-radiograph of the Prado painting. In addition, the verso of the sheet has a more sketchy drawing of Andromeda, and while it is not particularly close to the poesia of the same subject sent to Philip II in 1557, the presence of the two designs on one sheet is chronologically compatible.
Titian´s nocturnes had an enormous influence on Venetian painting, particularly on the work of Jacopo and Francesco Bassano, and Jacopo Tintoretto, whose Agony in the Garden of around 1578-80 painted for Santo Stefano in Venice, reveals his knowledge of Titian´s Escorial painting.
The present work was delivered to Philip II at the Escorial in 1574 and was hung in the vestibule of the Sacristy where it remained until it entered the Museo del Prado in 1837 (Text drawn from Falomir, M.: Tiziano, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2003, pp. 403-404).